Lightning Bolt Profile (Boston Globe, 9.06.12)

Posted on February 10, 2013


Lightning Bolt’s noise rock stands test of time


Brian Chippendale (left) and Brian Gibson of Lightning Bolt.

Ten years ago, a hundred or so kids packed into a room at the old Berwick building in Dudley Square to see the monolithic Providence-based duo Lightning Bolt. A slew of grating noise-rock, improv, and performance art opened the show — one group poured baked beans on themselves, one wore cardboard robot costumes.

As the robots leaned over to shut off their electronics, a piercing squeal came from the back corner of the room, where Lightning Bolt had stacked towers of tattered speaker cabinets and amplifiers. Brian Chippendale, in a patchwork face mask, climbed down from one stack of amps to his drums, chattering through the mike embedded in his mask. Bassist Brian Gibson loosely wrangled overtures of feedback and the band broke into its first bout of calculated chaos before the room had collectively turned its head.

It was hard to compare their sound to anything that had come before, and it felt doubtful that anything would match it again. Lightning Bolt proceeded to lead a charge of hundreds of motley noise-rock bands in the early 2000s into the curious watch of indie rock and experimental music fans. Chippendale has since jammed with Thurston Moore, Björk, and the Boredoms and, in a way, the world has spent time catching up to the band. But the two-man project itself hasn’t changed much.

“Maybe I’m constantly living in my own last 10 years,” says Chippendale over the phone one day on tour. They’d stopped at a Guitar Center in Georgia to replace a blown speaker from the night before (Chippendale calls these regular visits “the meltdown circuit”). The band’s newest album, “Oblivion Hunter,” is due out Sept. 25, and they’ll finish off a month-long tour at the Paradise later this month. The record delves into the hundreds of practice tapes they’ve collected, this one highlighting a raw and improvised session from around 2008.

Over the years, the band’s studio albums have shifted toward favoring structure and melody, with nods to recognizable genres like stoner rock and hardcore, but they remain unmistakably Lightning Bolt. While the intense live shows have always been the draw for the band, the recordings work on their own as harrowing, claustrophic fever dreams; they feel aimed at the subconscious, but work with sharp, front-of-the-brain precision.

“We’ve maniacally recorded everything we’ve done since 1999,” says Chippendale. The idea of the latest release is that, in the process of hammering out formal studio recordings, a lot of original charm can disappear from the songs. “Every record takes leaps forward,” he says. “But sometimes we forget to look back.”

Ben McOsker runs Load Records, the nearly 20-year-old label based in Providence that has released all of Lightning Bolt’s albums to date. “The band has historically had a conflicted relationship with recording,” he says, noting that they’ve also been working on a proper studio follow-up to 2009’s “Earthly Delights.” The label and the band grew together throughout their early years, Load establishing a reputation for all-encompassing noise while the band figured out its vision. “Load was willing to wait and just watch the band grow in the relatively unsupervised Petri dish that Providence was providing.”

The band grew up there in Fort Thunder, a defunct warehouse where Chippendale lived, legendary for DIY shows and for incubating a dizzying amount of artwork and music. McOsker watched the band’s ragged aesthetic catch on during early tours in the late 1990s. “They had a thought-out aesthetic from the get-go,” he says.

This deep into their career, Chippendale has seen a trail of bass-and-drums bands emerge in Lightning Bolt’s wake, along with a generation of performers like Dan Deacon forever influenced by the band’s on-the-floor ethos. “Our attitude was to be aggressive but positive,” he says. “We’ve just tried to be down to earth and hoped that would seep into the music and its presentation.”

Fort Thunder closed up long ago, demolished for a parking lot in 2001, and Chippendale’s even been in the market to buy a house, but he still lives in a Providence loft for now and plans to spend one more winter there without heat. McOsker credits the band’s singular “otherness” as the thing that has always set them apart. “The band is so particular to its vision and so devoted to that vision that there are few bands that can really compare,” he says.

Chippendale, who has said that he envies peers who can quickly change musical identities, would agree.

“I guess I’m just more of a consistent guy,” he says.


Original article appeared at Boston Globe here.

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